Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Gatwick South

Without even thinking to check my phone, I set off early for the forty minute drive to the airport, anxious to be there before they land. It's not until I park the car and walk into the terminal building, that I see the message saying they're delayed.

I sit and watch the arrivals board, seeing the details of their flight slowly inching to the top as the minutes tick by. Other planes land and there's a constant trail of people emerging from the baggage reclaim hall; you can tell straight away who's expecting to be met, they pause for a moment, looking around for a friendly face or a familiar name on a sign. You can tell who's pretending they fly all the time and don't need to be met - they determinedly don't look around, just march through, quickly heading to the car parks and onward transport. The unlucky few look lost and lonely, standing there hoping that someone will show them where to go.

Time passes.

When we were young, and air travel was still something of a novelty, my Dad would sometimes take us to watch the planes. I've never quite forgotten my surprise at how huge the planes were when you got up close; I've never got past wondering what strange sort of magic could lift a gigantic metal beast into the air then bring it safely back to ground again without smashing it to smithereens.

I was twelve when I got on a plane for the first time; heading for a holiday in Bulgaria with my family. It was the last time my sisters and I would go on holiday with both parents, though I didn't know that then.  I don't remember anything of the flight; my memories of the holiday are little more than snapshots, captured quickly without much thought, momentary images that have somehow stayed.

In one, I'm wearing a cotton sun-dress, small bright flowers on a white background, a ruched elastic bodice, thin straps tied on my shoulders. The photo, taken from behind, catches me at the moment when the wind lifted the skirt of my dress, revealing nothing but the skinniest legs imaginable. I hated that picture so much, squirmed with embarrassment every time someone looked at it. In another, I'm wearing blue and yellow sandals with cork wedge heels. I'd insisted on buying them for our big holiday, never mind that they were impossible to walk in and went with nothing else. I wonder now at the defiance in those shoes and my pride in the looks they elicited from other holiday makers; so at odds with my shyness over the picture of my legs. Perhaps that's what it's like when you're twelve; nothing is consistent.

There's a picture of us all on a balcony, dark wooden balustrades marking out the area where we ate breakfast every day; yoghurt and berries, cheeses and hams, so different from the Rice Krispies and Weetabix I was used to at home, so exotic as it seemed to me then. I think there was an abundance of water melons, like huge green bowling balls, or split into slices that we'd spit the pips from. I think I remember ice-cream, chocolate and strawberry flavoured, cold watery crystals. But that couldn't have been breakfast, could it? Another memory from another holiday perhaps.

I think of all the other times I've been here at Gatwick, waiting for my children to return; from trips to their Dad in Ireland, from their first grown-up holidays abroad, from the summers spent working in Greece. I think about how I'm always so determined to see them first, as if not noticing their arrival, looking the wrong way, reading a book, would somehow be a betrayal, a sign I hadn't missed them. Today my determination pays off and I spot them before they see me. I don't know which of them to kiss or hug first, I resist the urge to throw my arms round both of them at once, careful not to over-react, or embarrass them too much.

As we turn and head for the short-stay car park, I think about how I've always loved airports; the huge shiny planes, the lure of far-off places, the excited faces of people setting off on new adventures. Today  though, I realise that what I particularly love about airports is not the idea of going away, it's the certainty of people coming home.


Anonymous said...

Coming home is the best part of any trip, even if it's only as far as across town.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

You've captured it. As soon as I get my bearings I automatically become one of those attempting to look like a calm, knowing world traveler.

Mrs Smith said...

I always loved that scene in Love Actually where they talk about the arrivals at the airport. In that space there is such an intensity of love and anticipation, as an undercurrent, as everyone, like you is trying to 'stay cool'.

I can't imagine what it must be like to farewell and retrieve your grown up children from their travels.

Once I returned home from a trip and my mother came walking towards me with open arms, which fell to her sides with a slap when she saw my new nose ring!

Yesterday a colleague's son dropped into work following a trip to China, and his Mother's bliss on seeing him was undisguised. It was beautiful.

Cle Reveries said...

In any trip the most attractive places are the leaving and arriving aeroprts there are lways the same anxieties and emotions but the best is to find our dearest coming to take us home at last!

The Elephant's Child said...

I am not a fan of airports - in the same way I am not a fan of shopping centres. Too noisy, too much bright light. I am the traveller who is anxiously looking for someone to take me home, or the one looking for a traveller to take home.

Anonymous said...

Your writing here did make me smile. I stood waiting at Gatwick once with a big sign with a message for a girl I really loved. As passengers went passed they were looking at me as though I was mad.

Bill Dameron said...

So many wonderful visuals and images here. I love this line: "Perhaps that's what it's like when you're twelve; nothing is consistent."

I make a fool of myself when I see my daughters in the airport, still wrapping my arms around them and picking them up (And they are both adults now) There truly is nothing like coming home.

Pat said...

Deep sighs - so many memories that brings back - mostly happy but some sad. Thank you Sharon.

Mary-Colleen said...

I love how you've knit this essay together so seamlessly. It's a detailed film of your thoughts as you sit there waiting, looking at that the arrival information tick to the top of the screen, letting your mind drift back. The images, especially, of the photographs pull me right in to those scenes even though I'm seeing just words on the screen in front of me.

Linda Myers said...

I love airports in spite of them! So many stories.

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carla grace said...

you are right, being at the airport and waiting for people to come home instead of having to say goodbyes is ay better. There is a certain kind of joy, a bliss, knowing that any moment you will e seeing the face of your loved ones. gatwick meet and greet